Every Ocean Has a Shore
Of my modest nine-book oeuvre (cool word to write, though I would never try to slip it into a spoken conversation), this newest book was by far the longest in the making. It was in resting/waiting/forgotten mode for lengthy stretches of time between start and finish, so it has been especially gratifying to get it published, finally, even though that part of the process has posed some roadblocks. I have detailed some of that in my newsletters, so let me just say here that I was made to understand that my kind of book was no longer in vogue, either in Christian or secular publishing houses. The "religious content" was a problem for secular houses, of course, and even some Christian houses are now looking more for "faith-lite" fiction. Both Christian and secular houses are also now accepting fewer fiction titles overall than even 10-15 years ago and aren't interested in story lines that move at a more leisurely pace, with less literal action and more focus on such elements as description, introspection, complexity of character, and theme. And though none of my recent contacts with editors and agents actually put this next observation into words, it may be that publishers today aren't looking for contemporary, realistic novels free of edgy elements (violence, sex, profanity), dealing with ordinary people facing trials common to mankind. Compared to the sub-genres of mystery, thriller, scifi, romance, fantasy, etc., such a book is probably considered Least Likely to Top the Bestseller List.
A couple of comments about this new book. In the past, readers have asked me if Eldeen was ever going to appear again in a more on-stage role, and one of them even told me she would never forgive me if I "killed her off." After Suncatchers, however, I felt that Eldeen needed to retire into the background for a good long time, maybe permanently. She was one of those broadly drawn characters who fall into the category of "a little bit goes a long way," and I felt she had served her purpose in Book 1. In writing Every Ocean Has a Shore, however, she insisted on pushing her way into a number of scenes, particularly since one of the main characters in the new book happened to have an indirect family connection to her.
Another heads-up. This is a book about friendship, hope, faith, accepting changes, and opening one's heart, and it weaves three separate stories into one. As I was nearing the end of writing the final draft, someone remarked to me that she didn't like a certain novel she was reading because "it shifted around too much" and she preferred a book that "stuck to a linear plot and had only a few characters." So she probably won't like Every Ocean Has a Shore.
A Few Excerpts from the Book - First, from Chapter 5, in which Gary offers Fawna a gift in the deli:
As Cricket bangs things around in the kitchen, Gary says Fawna's name and motions her over. She leaves her cleaning things on a table and comes to where he's sitting.
"What's up?" she says.
He clears his throat. "I brought this for you." He hands her a small square white box. Never accept gifts from men—her mother's warning echoes in Fawna's mind. When she doesn't hold out her hand, Gary lifts his eyes to hers. In that moment something tells her he'll take it hard, and personally, if she declines. Though Fawna has broken her share of rules before, this one has been easy to keep, mainly because she can't recall a man ever offering her a literal, tangible gift. She clearly remembers the second part of her mother's warning: The average man will always demand something in return. Always.
True, Gary has done nothing in her months at the diner to show he's an "average man"—a creature Fawna's mother described with an alphabetized list, starting with arrogant, bullheaded, cowardly, dense, egotistical. Fawna has never been inclined to give a man a chance to prove otherwise, but she scours her mind now for a polite way not to take the box from Gary's hand, or at least a way that's not blatantly rude. She realizes that the hesitation in itself is evidence of a weakening of the will.
The box is still in his hand, which is still extended, though he's drawn it back a little closer to himself now. His eyes, scrunched at the corners, are still on her, two worried furrows between them.
In the seconds that follow, Fawna's mind quickly rewinds to the first day she walked into Gary Dee's Little Meals and then fast-forwards to this moment. All those days and weeks piled up one on top of the other, and Gary's only observable flaws have been general absentmindedness and slowness of speech, which aren't flaws of heart and soul. The latter could even be seen as a plus. But observable—that's the key word, for the flaws are surely there according to her mother's handbook. Give them half a chance in private, she said, and you'll see the flaws up close. Though her mother had more than a few flaws herself, her constant warnings about men, corroborated by convincing stories, are hard for Fawna to shake.
But here stands Gary, bashful and awkward, a kind man of few words, offering her something in a white box. Gary isn't one to tease, so she knows it's not a practical joke.
She looks down at her hands, tightly clasped in front of her, then watches them unfold, sees one of them reach out, palm up. She hears a voice in her head—What do you think you're doing?—followed immediately by another voice, her own real one, saying to Gary, "What in the world? Christmas is months away. Oh, wait… is this April Fool's a little late?"
From Chapter 10, in which Alice's birthday party is finally ending:
Alice thanks everyone again and sets the dusting powder and tea tin inside the larger box with the bathrobe. She removes the paper crown from her head and places it in the box, too, then pushes her chair back and stands. She suddenly realizes how tired she is. Dreading the party all day, then sitting out in the sun this afternoon, followed by the extended birthday meal and all the conversation and activity around the table—she wonders briefly how many thousands of words she has heard today.
Ten minutes later she finds herself, blessedly, standing by the front door saying her good-byes, Ian beside her. Willard is holding the box of gifts, the book he is lending her, and a plastic bag into which Jewel has packed a Tupperware container with a few pieces of the birthday cake in it and another with two pieces of smoked chicken. Willard intends to see them safely to the car and will doubtless talk the whole time. Though her son has always been unusually communicative for the male species, Alice has a theory: Living in the same house with Eldeen, he now has fewer opportunities to talk and, thus, saves up his words to use whenever he can.
"Oh, hold up a minute! Hold up just a minute!" Eldeen cries. She steps forward and begins brushing her hand briskly over the top of Alice's head. "Looky there, you got glitter in your hair! There, I think I got most of it. My, your hair is poofy. Pretty stiff, too—you must use hairspray. That's probably why yours always stays in place! You're gettin' a little bit more gray up there, Alice, you know it?" She laughs. "But not near as much as I got!"
Alice pats down her hair with one hand. She has always disliked having anyone touch it. And she's not sure she likes the word "poofy." Or being reminded of getting grayer.
Willard says to Rosemary, "Maybe Tinkerbell waved her magic wand over Grandma Alice's head and sprinkled it with fairy dust. Do
you think that's what happened?"
Rosemary laughs. "It came from the crown, Daddy, and she's Grandmother, not Grandma." She points to Eldeen. "That's Grandma!"
Well, at least Rosemary remembers, Alice thinks, even if Willard doesn't, or pretends not to.
From Chapter 27, in which Fawna is giving manicures at the nursing home and meeting Mrs. Shaw for the first time:
Through the window Fawna can see Mrs. Shaw watching her closely as she waters the petunias and pinches off the dead blooms. Then she says something Fawna can't understand, so she goes back inside, where she learns that Mrs. Shaw wants the bird feeder monitored also. Her grandson has left a bag of birdseed in her closet, and he will refill the feeder every time he comes, but the birds empty it so fast that someone will need to take on the responsibility during the in-between times. It's a flat statement, not a question.
"Well, no problem, I can do that, too," Fawna readily offers, seeing no reason she can't.
There is a moment of silence while Mrs. Shaw absorbs this, then another humph and an impatient glance toward the manicure caddy on the bed. "All right, then," she says irritably, "bring your paraphernalia over here and let's get it over with." She presses her recliner control to lower the footrest and raise the back.
In her mind it's apparently a simple trade—Fawna has agreed to help her, so she will give Fawna the privilege of doing her nails. She makes it clear, however, that it "can't be a long drawn-out process" since supper is delivered at five and she "can't be bothered with wet, sticky nails" while using a knife and fork. "The polish must be completely dry before five," she states.
"Well, okay then, let's get cracking," Fawna says. She quickly moves the caddy to the portable table and rolls it over to Mrs. Shaw's recliner, then draws up a chair in front of it. She sits down and plucks out a bottle of "Skip to My Lou Pink" polish from the caddy, then holds it up and speaks to it sternly, shaking her finger. "Now listen up, Skippy, you heard Mrs. Shaw. You can't just sit there all gloopy after I put you on her fingernails. You need to dry fast, get it?" Then she wiggles the bottle in the air and in a little squeaky voice says, "I hear you, so quit your yapping and get busy."
Mrs. Shaw doesn't seem to find this humorous in the least. As if resigned to an onerous duty, she stares straight ahead, without smiling or blinking, and lays both hands on the table.
Fawna studies them briefly. Hands the size of a man's, prodigiously wrinkled, with roadways of large, prominent blue veins snaking across the backs. Brown spots, swollen knuckles, an index finger with a crooked tip, and longish nails but well shaped. No chipped polish to remove, so that helps. A large sapphire ring on one hand, a gold band on the other.
"Shall we take off your rings?" Fawna says.
"No, we shall not. Things have a way of disappearing around here."